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Blog Category: Open Data

The Value of Government Weather and Climate Data

Guest blog post by Jane Callen, Economics and Statistics Administration

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collects weather and climate data. As we noted in a recent Commerce Department report on the Value of Government Data, the return to society on investment in government meteorological data is large.

For example, one survey found that the overwhelming majority of people said they used weather forecasts and did so an average of 3.8 times per day. That equates to 301 billion forecasts consumed per year!

The study’s authors note that, other than current news events, there is probably no other type of information obtained on such a routine basis from such a variety of sources. Certainly, the researchers say, no other scientific information is accessed so frequently. And while the information is being delivered from an array of sources, most of it directly or indirectly originates from NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS). Americans check to learn what is happening in the weather, and we plan our days – and lives – based on this data.

The researchers found a median valuation of weather forecasts per household of $286 per year, which suggests that the aggregate annual valuation of weather forecasts was about $31.5 billion. The sum of all federal spending on meteorological operations and research was $3.4 billion in the same year, and the private sector spent an additional $1.7 billion on weather forecasting, for a total of private and public spending of about $5.1 billion. In other words, the valuation people placed on the weather forecasts they consumed was 6.2 times as high as the total expenditure on producing forecasts. NOAA data is re-packaged and analyzed to produce 15 million weather products, such as air quality alerts, the three, five and ten day extended weather forecast, earthquake reports, and tornado and flash flood warnings. Many end users do not realize that NOAA provides the data they see and hear every day on The Weather Channel, AccuWeather, the radio and in the morning paper.

Secretary Pritzker Discusses the Power of Government Data and Announces the Department of Commerce Will Hire Its First-Ever Chief Data Officer

Announces the Department of Commerce Will Hire Its First-Ever Chief Data Officer

Today, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker discussed the Department of Commerce’s expanding role as “America’s Data Agency” at the 2014 Esri International User’s Conference in San Diego, California. The annual conference, hosted by Esri, a geographic information systems (GIS) software development company is attended by 16,000 data experts, including those from federal, state, local, and regional governments; Fortune 1000 companies; small business owners; university scholars; and K-12 teachers. 

During her address, Secretary Pritzker described how the Department of Commerce’s data collection – which literally reaches from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun – not only informs trillions of dollars of private and public investments each year and plants the seeds of economic growth, but also saves lives. Because of Commerce Department data, Secretary Pritzker explained, communities vulnerable to tornados have seen warning times triple and tornado warning accuracy double over the past 25 years, giving residents greater time to search for shelter in the event of an emergency. The breadth of the Department’s data collection and dissemination, which touches of the lives of millions of Americans every day, is why many, including Secretary Pritzker call the Department of Commerce “America’s Data Agency.”

To develop and implement a vision for the next phase in the open data revolution, Secretary Pritzker announced that the Department of Commerce will hire its first-ever Chief Data Officer. This leader, Secretary Pritzker explained, will oversee improvements to data collection and dissemination in order to ensure that Commerce’s data programs are coordinated, comprehensive, and strategic. To bolster the Chief Data Officer’s efforts, Secretary Pritzker explained that the Department will create a data advisory council, which will be comprised of private sector leaders who will advise the Department on how to best use and unleash more government data.

Secretary Pritzker also announced the launch of the International Trade Administration’s “Developer Portal,” which will centralize data that is vital to exporting businesses across the country. Finally, Secretary Pritzker invited conference attendees to participate in a panel discussion later in the week in San Diego on how businesses can best utilize data from the American Community Survey (ACS), an annual statistical survey that helps guide $400 billion in federal spending each year.

New Commerce Department report explores huge benefits, low cost of government data

Fostering Innovation, Creating Jobs, Driving Better Decisions: The Value of Government Data

Cross post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

Today we are pleased to roll out an important new Commerce Department report on government data. “Fostering Innovation, Creating Jobs, Driving Better Decisions: The Value of Government Data,” arrives as our society increasingly focuses on how the intelligent use of data can make our businesses more competitive, our governments smarter, and our citizens better informed. 

And when it comes to data, as the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, I have a special appreciation for the Commerce Department’s two preeminent statistical agencies, the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. These agencies inform us on how our $17 trillion economy is evolving and how our population (318 million and counting) is changing, data critical to our country. Although “Big Data” is all the rage these days, the government has been in this  business for a long time: the first Decennial Census was in 1790, gathering information on close to four million people, a huge dataset for its day, and not too shabby by today’s standards as well. 

Just how valuable is the data we provide? Our report seeks to answer this question by exploring the range of federal statistics and how they are applied in decision-making. Examples of our data include gross domestic product, employment, consumer prices, corporate profits, retail sales, agricultural supply and demand, population, international trade and much more.

The American Community Survey: Best Quality Data with the Least Public Burden

The American Community Survey: Best Quality Data with the Least Public Burden

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

“Better Data for Better Decisions” is my mantra as I crisscross the country talking to people about making the data we collect easier to find, understand and use.  Making government data more accessible or “open” to improve government, business and community decisions is a major initiative in the Commerce Department’s “Open for Business Agenda.”  The open data initiative has the potential to fuel new businesses, create new jobs and help us make better policy decisions. 

One of our best data sources is the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS).  The ACS is truly a unique, national treasure, producing a wealth of data on which our country relies to make important decisions.  The ACS is used to inform disbursement of over $400 billion a year in Federal funds.  State and local decision makers rely on the ACS information to guide tough choices about competing funding priorities, such as locating hospitals, funding programs for children, building roads and transportation systems, targeting first responders, supporting veterans, locating schools, and promoting economic development. In short, our community leaders use ACS data to analyze how the needs of our neighborhoods are evolving.  And, our business users rely on ACS data to make key marketing, location and financial decisions to serve customers and create jobs. 

The value of the ACS is immense. It makes our businesses more competitive, our governments smarter, and our citizens more informed. 

This value comes from the fact that the ACS captures so much information so comprehensively.  But, this also means that the value of the ACS depends critically on the people responding to the survey, known as the respondents.  I met recently with members of the ACS Data Users Group, an organization dedicated to sharing innovations and best practices for ACS data use, to discuss how to get the best quality data with the least amount of respondent burden. This is of paramount importance.  A survey seen as too lengthy, burdensome and intrusive will produce lower response rates and could undermine both the quality of the data and value of the survey. But reducing the length of the survey could reduce the amount of information available for decision-making. 

International Statistical Update: Health- and Education-Related Travel Now Part of Travel Services

Cross-post, Bureau of Economic Analysis

You may have noticed some data on international travel services look a little bit different. With the release of the monthly trade report on June 4, spending on health- and education-related travel are now counted in the travel services category. Previously, both were included in a category called “other personal services.”

Expenditures on goods and services by border, seasonal, and other short-term workers, which were also previously included in other private services, are reclassified to travel as well.

While this change alone will not affect the overall trade balance, the category measuring travel services – both imports and exports – will be larger. However, BEA will also report quarterly on health- and education-related travel separately from other more traditional business and personal travel so that users can track travel spending in several ways. You can see the new travel services category as well as the subcategories in a new table that will be available on June 18. A template is available now.

This change is part of the Comprehensive Restructuring of BEA’s International Economic Accounts, which we discussed in a recent blog post.

An example of health-related travel is when a foreign person travels to the United States for surgery. In this case, health-related travel exports would include the cost of medical procedures the person receives, in addition to any accommodations and other expenses he or she incurs in the United States.

An example of education-related travel is when a foreign person travels to the U.S. to attend school here. In this case, education-related travel exports would include all costs the foreign student incurs in the United States, including tuition at a U.S. institution. Like other changes to BEA’s international accounts, moving health- and education-related travel to the travel services category brings the U.S. international accounts into closer harmony with data produced by our trading partners and was a recommendation of the International Monetary Fund’s Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual, 6th edition.

Big Data is Big Business for Commerce

Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Mark Doms (center) along with Erie Meyer, Joel Gurin, Waldo Jaquith, and Daniel Castro at the Center for Data Innovation hosted “The Economic Benefits of Open Data” event

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

Big Data and Open Data are all the rage these days. However, Commerce was into Big Data before Big Data was cool. As far back as 1790, we began collecting data on patents in the U.S. and the Census Bureau conducted the first Decennial Census the same year. In 1870, the National Weather Service was created – which today is one of the biggest data producing agencies around.

Back then, our economy was based largely on agriculture. Over the years, our economy evolved through the industrial revolution, later giving rise to the strong service sector. Today, we are at the nascent stages of the next era in our economic growth, the information age. On a daily basis, there is an ever-increasing amount of data becoming available, and the demand for data is increasing exponentially. We have before us both great opportunity and fascinating challenges to understand how best to harness this national resource. This is a key focus of Commerce’s Open for Business Agenda.

You may not know it, but the Department of Commerce is home to many agencies that are your primary source for data that you likely use every day.

For example:

  • How many people live in the U.S. or in your hometown? You might know the Census Bureau is the authority on population, but did you know the Census Bureau’s data goes well beyond just population? Census also produces huge volumes of data on our economy, demographics, and fascinatingly insightful data describing our communities – or, if you are a business, your customers.
  • The Bureau of Economic Analysis is a little know agency that produces key economic data and many of the closely watched economic indicators that move markets, drive investment decisions and guide economic policy. Do you know which industries are the leading sources of income in your community, or to your customers? BEA data can tell you.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is your primary source for weather, ocean and climate data – they are collecting data every minute of every day from land, sea, and even spaced-based sensors. When you hear the local forecast or hear about severe weather warning, that is NOAA data informing you about your environment in real time.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology, locally known as NIST, is our nation’s authority on broad swaths of scientific, cyber, and physical data – including, officially, what time it is.
  • We also have data on patents going back more than 200 years at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is a gold mine of inspiration for innovation.
  • Other agencies in Commerce provide data on economic development, minority businesses, trade, and telecommunications and the Internet.

On any given day, the Department will generate in excess of 20 terabytes of data, and sometimes much more. Yet, we think we can do more with this resource. We want to take every step we can to open access to it to the entrepreneurs and innovators of America, as we are pretty convinced that there is huge unmet value and potential. We understand that a huge part of the value of data is when it is not seen alone, but as part of a rich tapestry of information. We believe that there is great opportunity to solve problems, innovate new businesses, and improve data-driven decision-making, and we are committed to that path.

That is why I was so glad to be a part of today’s launch of the Open Data 500 Project, housed out of the GovLab at NYU. This exciting project has verified what we were certain must be true: That hundreds of American companies are using Commerce data every day to innovate and deliver important goods and services to their customers.